14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Crucifying the Petty in Us

Photo by Paz Arando on Unsplash

The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.
(Luke 10:2)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Galatians 6:14–18
July 3, 2022

This week, we read the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul is writing with great emotion and has let his guard down. As with 2nd Corinthians, which we read earlier in the year, he will reveal much about himself. Some of this is admittedly unseemly, but they also show a man who loves God and is fiercely protective of the churches he founded.

He was protecting them from what we now call “Judaizing Christians.” These were people who came from Jerusalem and taught that the communities baptized by Paul needed to become more Jewish. The men should be circumcised, and all adopt Torah laws. They had many reasons for this, and Paul answered them throughout the letter. As he concludes, he brings to the fore a disease which would have been in the back of his readers’ minds: Jews were a protected class in the Empire. They alone did not have to offer sacrifice to the emperor. For others failure to do so was a capital crime.

It is those who want to make a good appearance in the flesh
who are trying to compel you to have yourselves circumcised,
only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.

(Ga 6:12)

His opponents did not want the Romans to think that Christians were a new and thus not protected religion but Jews. They would then not be “persecuted” for the cross of Christ. Paul will be very clear later in this section that he has been very definitely persecuted for the distinctive beliefs of Christianity.

He continues:

…they only want you to be circumcised
so that they may boast of your flesh

(Ga 6:13)

The more Christians that can pass as Jews the safer they will all be, but Paul knows that their witness will be inauthentic. His opponents bear the marks of circumcision, he bears the marks of Christ.

His opponents boast of those whose physical bodies they have altered to be more like Jews, Paul’s boasts are radically different;

“But may I never boast
except in the cross
of our Lord Jesus Christ

(Gal 6:14a)

This would have been incomprehensible for most of his contemporaries. Crucifixion was not only a very painful physical death, but it was social death as well. The total elimination of the person. It could not be done to Roman citizens thus Paul, a Roman citizen, was beheaded. Peter, who was not a Roman citizen, was crucified.

As we saw a few weeks ago when we examined Romans 5, Paul usually uses “boast” negatively. He realizes that most people boast of their attainments and possessions. The world finds “stuff” essential, but it is nothing compared to God. Paul’s references to his own boasting are sparing, unambiguous but effective:

If I must boast, I will boast of the things
that show my weakness

(2 Co 11:30)

Paul has experienced the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection

…through which the world has been crucified to me,
and I to the world

(Ga 6:14b)

This is an odd but powerful expression. At the very beginning of this letter, Paul said that Jesus

… gave himself for our sins
that he might rescue us from the present evil age
in accord with the will of our God and Father

(Ga 1:4)

The world is the powers of evil in this age, this world was conquered by the cross and thus died on it. He has expressed this earlier in Galatians:

For through the law I died to the law,
so that I might live to God.
I have been crucified with Christ; 20
and it is no longer I who live,
but it is Christ who lives in me

(Ga 2:19–20)

Paul’s more developed understanding of this may be found in Romans:

We know that our old self was crucified with him
so that the body of sin might be destroyed,
and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

(Ro 6:6–7)

This is brought out more clearly in the next sentence:

For neither does circumcision mean anything,
nor does uncircumcision,
but only a new creation

(Ga 6:15)

Circumcision or its lack are of the old creation, Jesus’ death and resurrection creates a new creation, a world to replace the one which died on the cross. This is the fulfillment of many prophecies including:

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.

(Is 65:17)

Paul has written of this to the Corinthians;

So whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.

(2 Co 5:17)

Putting aside allegiances to the old way of life and living for the new is Paul’s guiding rule.

Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule
and to the Israel of God.

(Ga 6:16)

They will experience peace and mercy. Note especially that he speaks of the “Israel of God.” This is the only time this expression is used in the Bible. Scholars think that it means Jews who now accept Jesus and are the most authentic followers of Abraham.

Galatians never more resembles 2nd Corinthians as in these final sections.

From now on, let no one make troubles for me;
for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.

(Ga 6:17)

Paul is bone tired, and he wishes to be left in peace. He has said this in greater length and passion to the Corinthians:

Five times I have received from the Jews
the forty lashes minus one.
Three times I was beaten with rods.
Once I received a stoning.
Three times I was shipwrecked;
for a night and a day I was adrift at sea;
on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers,
danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles,
danger in the city, danger in the wilderness,
danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters

(2 Co 11:24–26)

He understands this as necessary; but difficult:

…always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.

(2 Co 4:10)

He bears the marks of Jesus on his body to build up the body of Christ.

The last line is the most touching and perhaps the clearest proof of all he has said

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
be with your spirit, brothers.
Amen brothers. Amen.

(Ga 6:18)

It is a standard Pauline ending if somewhat curt. He is still angry and hurt but it is the only one in which he calls his readers “brothers.” He wishes them to know that they will always be his family even when they disappoint indeed enrage him.

Truly much that was petty and self-seeking in Paul has been crucified with Jesus and he has followed the rule of Christ. Is that not becoming a new being, a new creation? Is there a better message for our time?